Anyone who’s hung out with Etta knows what those words mean. She is D-O-N-E. When she comes over to me, wherever we are– zoo, story time, splash pad– and says “mama, night night,” I pack it in and we jet. Because apparently, my tiny tot knows herself well, and she lets me know when she’s reached the point of needing to get home and get to bed for a nap ASAP. Continue reading “knowing yourself”
At this point, everyone who knows anyone with a kid has likely seen the latest viral parenting piece from a “British Nanny” letting us know 5 Reasons Parenting is in a Crisis. Most of them left me with that record-scratch sound playing in my head.
For one thing, I’m an ACTUAL PARENT, and I’m not here to tell you a bulleted list of how to raise your kids. Because if twins have taught me anything, it’s that every kid is different, and every parent is different, and only you know what is best for your child. We’re all just doing the best we can here, and my biggest takeaway in two years has been that we all need a little more grace and a lot more help.
In order to write this post, I have to first give up the charade that my kids don’t watch tv. I had lofty goals of no screen time til two, but caved around 18 months, and haven’t looked back. They aren’t glued to the TV all day, but my kids watch something every day. I have two year old twins. If we want to eat, they will likely have to watch a show while I cook dinner. I have amassed a small collection of Disney DVDs I don’t hate, and the girls have come up with their own names for them. Slowly, I have figured out what they mean.
BEES!: A Bug’s Life. All bugs are bees. I have long ago stopped freaking out when my kids shout about a bee in their presence. It’s probably a fly.
BINGERBELL!: Any of the 5 Tinkerbell movies. It could also be Tangled, which my girls seem to think is about Tinkerbell in desperate need of a trip to the salon. “She needs haircut,” Claire says. You figure out which movie they mean. Good luck.
TOYS!: Toy Story 1 or 2. Whichever one you’re least tired of at the time. Eventually I need to add Toy Story 3 to the rotation, but I’m putting it off because it makes me ugly cry.
The Bear Movie: Brave. I’m pretty sure Claire actually roots for the big scary bears in this film– perhaps because, since we always call her Bear Bear, she thinks she’s one of them.
BEARS!: Brother Bear. Do not mistake a request to watch Brave with a request for Brother Bear, or you will regret it.
Anna Movie: Frozen. I have the only kids in the world who think Anna is the cooler character, here.
Monsters: Monsters Inc. The only movie Etta ever wants to watch, and, coincidentally, one that makes Claire actually shake with fear and say “no, Monsters, no!” Etta loves Monsters. She draws them, paints them, enjoys drinking out of a sippy cup emblazoned with them, and talks about them all the time, sometimes while growling like one.
MOUSE!: Ratatouille. Don’t think for a second that enjoyment of this film will make your toddlers want to eat ratatouille, though.
EMO!: Finding Nemo. Sometimes I mute it and just leave the DVD menu on the screen like some kind of pretty screensaver. I like to imagine Emo is a spinoff about Dory and Marlin’s future child, who has a real melancholy streak, a garage band, and a collection of rare Dashboard Confessional bootlegs.
What about you– do any of your kids have funny names for favorite movies or characters?
I feel like when my kids are supposed to switch from various bottles and cups to the next level is one of those lessons I missed in mom school. Bottles to soft sippies, soft sippies to straws, straws to ?? I don’t even know. I eventually got the vague idea that I needed to get them off of the bottles and onto sippy cups because otherwise their teeth would be jacked up, and so we did that somewhere around age one. Except that after that, Etta would ONLY drink from a very particular Nuk soft sippy cup, and Claire would drink anything out of anything except milk NEEDED to be drunk from a baby bottle. And since milk was such a key part of our bedtime routine, since it worked SO WELL to get them sleepy and since I am so utterly lazy, I decided not to fight it. They won’t go to college drinking out of baby bottles, right? Continue reading “pixie dust and sippy cups”
For two years and two months, Claire has been snuggled, held, and rocked to sleep. For 19 months of that time, Etta was rocked or bounced to sleep, herself. This could take up to an hour. Sometimes it got annoying– especially after a tough day, sometimes I didn’t feel like the long ordeal. Sometimes, like just last week, my husband and I would talk about maybe it being time to do some sort of sleep training, something anyone who has ever had kids has had strangers recommend, but something I had always resisted. And I resisted because the annoyance was only a rare sometimes. Mostly? Mostly I loved the snuggly ritual of helping my sweet small ones transition from awake to sleep, feeling them grow heavy in my arms, hearing their breaths grow longer, watching their eyelids close. Mostly because I know I’m not allowed to birth any more babies, I felt no need to rush one of the last vestiges of my only babyhood away. I figured eventually, they wouldn’t need me to rock them to sleep, and that when that day arrived, they’d let me know.
And they did. Continue reading “leveling up”
When I was pregnant with twins, I didn’t read a bunch of books about twin pregnancy and what to expect (I read exactly one, followed its diet like the bible, and for the record, credit it with 6 lb twins at nearly 35 weeks gestation). I figured, for the most part, I didn’t need to know what to expect. And if questions came up, I could ask my doctor husband or my actual doctor– it was a good strategy. Instead, I was already worried about raising twins, about how I would make sure they felt valued and loved as individuals, and not a pair, about how I would ensure I had a strong, unique relationship with each. I knew from the start that any efforts at “equality” would be doomed, moreso after one of our kids was diagnosed with Spina Bifida– as a friend said in her LTYM talk, motherhood is inherently a Marxist enterprise, and we parent each according to their needs (at the moment). Comparison would only be the thief of joy, so I would have to accept that perfect equality between what I give to each of my girls at any given moment would just not be possible.
But dangit, that doesn’t mean that two years later I don’t sometimes find myself feeling guilty for any perceived inequalities. Continue reading “not pictured”
Here’s the big secret no one tells you about parenting: we’re all winging it. But the bigger secret is: that seems to work beautifully most of the time. Before I had kids, I was worried about my maternal instincts. I wasn’t sure I had what it takes, wasn’t sure things would kick in like they should. Now, I’m not so sure I believe in maternal instinct so much as this: I spend more time with my children than I have ever spent with anyone except myself, thus, I know them almost as well as I know myself. I sense things about them. It sometimes seems like outright ESP, but the reality is, I pick up on even their tiniest signals, because I am with them all. the. time. And when you know someone that well, you do more than just finish each other’s sentences– you anticipate each other’s moods, needs, etc.
This was proven again recently when, upon hearing my girls one morning, just woken up across the hall from us, babbling and giggling to each other across the room in their cribs, I thought, “These kids are ready for toddler beds. I bet they’d like to get up and play and cuddle and chat with each other in the mornings, instead of being trapped in their cribs.” So, that day, my husband and I took a side off of each crib and put up the toddler rail, and just like that, our babies (aged 19 months) had toddler beds.
It has been amazing. They LOVE their big girl beds, and I am so glad I trusted my gut. Etta, who was bounced to sleep in her Baby Bjorn bouncer for every nap and night of her 19 months, gave up the bouncer and now goes awake into her bed and falls asleep there. Claire, who has been held and cuddled to sleep for every night of her 19 months…well, she would still prefer to be held, but she goes drowsy but awake into her bed without too much protest most of the time. (Except the last couple nights, in which she has been a bear whether held or placed in bed. I’m blaming teeth.) And in the mornings and after naps? Most of the time this crazy thing happens where they wake up and either wind up hanging out together in one bed, or they get up and play for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. As I write this post, Etta has been down for a nap, and though she woke up an hour ago, I’ve been listening to her talk, sing, and play for an entire hour. (Though, for the sake of honesty, this morning they woke up and immediately began a full on brawl over the same blue stuffed monkey.)
Like any baby milestone, part of me is a little wistful and sad, because no more cribs is just another step out of babyhood. But, as with most things, the new step has been so positive, has been such an opportunity to see them growing and becoming themselves, that I feel excited and happy that I get to be here witnessing it. They were ready, so we did it. I am so very glad.
I mentioned that we recently went on vacation. I did not mention that it was to the Happiest Place on Earth: Walt Disney World. When my husband had a paper accepted at the biggest national conference in pediatrics, and when I found out the conference was in Orlando, we decided to make a family vacation of it and try taking the girls to Disney since kids under 3 get in free.
I grew up in Disney World. This is not hyperbole. My parents have an Orlando timeshare, and we went at least once, usually twice a year, from when I was 8 years old. For me, going back to Disney is almost as nostalgic as going to grandmother’s house. It’s a place full of happy memories that I know very very well. Because we went so often (it and the Gulf Coast were the only places we ever vacationed), my family did Disney a little differently than families who only ever go once. For us, the pressure was off to see and do EVERYTHING since we knew we’d be back, and because we had a season pass, my parents didn’t hesitate to get us out of there when it was time to go back to the condo and nap.
These two lessons formed the basis of my approach to this trip, and should serve as a warning to anyone attempting to take very small people to Disney:
Do not expect to see and do EVERYTHING.
Do not plan to spend a whole day at Disney World with toddlers.
By keeping those things in mind, we were able to truly enjoy our time in the parks with our tiny people. We had a 5 day non-park-hopping pass, which worked out fine. We were generally able to spend about half a day in the parks, and then the girls were done with stimuli, crowds, and the stroller and we had to leave and take naps at the condo. We probably could have come back in the evenings for a couple of hours, but by that point, we were tired too, so we stuck to quiet dinners and early bedtimes (our girls basically stayed on Central Time), and putting our feet up. We did two days at Magic Kingdom, and one day each at Epcot, Hollywood Studios (which will always be MGM to me!), and Animal Kingdom.
One major note: we went in October. The weather was lovely, but warm. We still got sweaty. I would NO WAY, NO HOW take toddlers to a Florida theme park in the summer. It would just be miserable, like pushing a stroller through the most crowded circle of hell. I do not think my sanity could take it. October is better. Nice weather, less crowded, and everything was decorated for Halloween. Also, we took advantage of off-season rates, and used Groupon to secure a two-bedroom condo with kitchen for $400 for the week. Also, the Magic Kingdom on Halloween itself is amazing– everyone we saw was wearing costumes, and some were quite elaborate! I think my favorite was a large family in which grandma was Snow White and every other family member was a dwarf.
Speaking of pushing strollers through hell: this is what it would be like if you rented a Disney stroller, no matter what time of year. Those things are terrible, made of hard plastic which can’t be comfy for little bodies, don’t recline, and I saw more than a few tip over backwards in our time at the parks. On top of that, renting a double stroller at Disney is $31 per day. Insanity. Because we were driving there, and because our resort had cribs and high chairs, we had room in our car for our beloved Baby Jogger City Select double stroller. If you are flying, I highly recommend looking into stroller rental in Orlando. I scoped out the names of several of the companies I saw on the Baby Jogger City Mini Doubles being pushed through the park, and it seems $95/week, delivered straight to your hotel, is a standard rate for a high quality double stroller that won’t make you hate yourself as you push it through one of the most crowded places on earth.
Another thing about strollers: unless you pack an umbrella (which I don’t recommend, because you’re going to want a sun canopy, basket, and reclining seats), plan on doing a smidge of extra walking. Disney parking lots are vast expanses of blacktop ruled over by attendants in yellow stripey uniforms, often on segways. You will park where they say to park. You will walk to the front of the cars. You will stand behind the yellow line. You will wait for the tram. You will disassemble your stroller and all the stuff you planned to stash in the basket to flatten it all and fit it into the tram while somehow holding on to your two small children. You will say “screw the tram” and leave your kids in their stroller with all their stuff stowed below as you elect to walk yourself to the Transportation and Ticket Center, which really isn’t as far as it seems.
Related: when going to the Magic Kingdom, Thou Shalt Ride the Monorail rather than be packed like an Ellis Island Immigrant onto the slow-moving cruise across Bay Lake on the Ferry Boat. Thou shalt arrive in half the time.
Admittedly, it had been a long time since I went to Disney with/as a small child, and I really wasn’t sure how much my kids would get out of it. A lot, it turns out. There’s plenty of stuff for little kids to ride (my kids are 18 months), and if you know what they can handle, the day will go quite smoothly. I know my kids well enough to know they can’t sit through any stage shows, stunt shows, fireworks shows, or parades. They also have no idea who most of the characters are, and will not get enough out of meeting any of them to justify standing in line for a photo op and autograph, so we skipped all the character meet and greets. They do however, love rides. In the Magic Kingdom alone, they rode and loved: Aladdin’s Magic Carpets, The Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Carousel, It’s a Small World (their fave), Winnie the Pooh, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Dumbo, the Teacups, and absolutely could have ridden Peter Pan’s Flight, the Haunted Mansion (little kids don’t know it’s supposed to be scary), and the People Mover and the spaceships in Tomorrowland had we not run out of time. We were selective about which of the no-toddlers-allowed rides we chose to ride ourselves, utilizing Fastpasses or rider swap to get our turns on attractions the girls couldn’t enjoy, though for the most part, we focused on things that we could all do together.
Animal Kingdom was probably the second most fun park for the girls, Epcot third, and we really could have skipped Hollywood Studios entirely. Epcot was super fun for the adults, though, because it was the food and wine festival, and we enjoyed eating our way around the world via reasonably-priced small bites and little glasses of wine. Another good reason to visit in the fall.
Finally, here’s my biggest lesson from this Disney trip with toddlers: you reallllly do not need to be schlepping a week’s worth of luggage through the parks like I saw so many families (often with only one kid) doing. I was determined that we would only need a small backpack to carry all our gear, and I made it happen. Key: I did not pack much in the way of food, and I didn’t pack first aid items that could be obtained at the in-park First Aid or Baby Care centers. What I did pack:
A change of clothes for each kid
Two straw cups for sharing drinks at restaurants (my toddlers can’t quite handle the average lidded kids cup yet, and need something leak proof with a screw-on lid)
Two snack traps full of cereal (these they held in the stroller and did not put in the bag)
Two toddler forks
4 baby food pouches
2 catheter kits for my child with spina bifida
A sippy full of milk per child (which I refilled with milk purchased at restaurants, going insulated with these cups is a good idea to avoid having to bring a cooler)
The Nosefrida, because at least one kid always seemed to have a stuffy/runny nose, and this is the only thing that works
If I were going in the warm weather, I might have included a swim diaper for each kid (there are some splash fountains at the parks I know they would like). Other than that, we shared food off our plates at lunch, were never in the parks at dinner, and never once needed anything or wished we had brought something else.
Beyond the contents of the backpack, our other crucial items were an Ergo carrier for each child. What we would do was, navigate the stroller to an area of the park, park the stroller in a designated area, put each kid into an Ergo, and go through lines that way, doing everything in that area before putting them back in the stroller and moving on to the next area of the park. By wearing our kiddos, who are very used to being worn and love it, we weren’t fighting with kids struggling to get down to the ground as we moved through lines, and we weren’t wearing ourselves out holding them. For some rides like It’s A Small World, I even left the kid in the Ergo for the duration of the ride. I cannot stress enough the importance of bringing a carrier that is comfortable for you both if you bring toddlers to Disney. These carriers were stashed under the stroller and easy to get on and off. They were also wearable WITH the backpack full of stuff, so we never had to leave the backpack behind, and because the backpack was small, we could always take it with us, even on the rides.
So, there you have it, my guide to Disney with toddlers. Have you ever taken a very small child on such a vacation? Have any tips or questions?
Before I had kids, I admit I didn’t know much about toddlers. I’d heard a lot about the terrible twos and threes (and debate about exactly which is more terrible), but I hadn’t spent a lot of time around toddlers.
Can I just say that so far, I greatly prefer toddlers to infants? I know we’re only like 6 months into this toddler thing, and that my kids were a little late on the actual toddling, but this seems to be a really cool phase. They’re learning and growing and just exploding with personality. They’re curious and funny and yes, opinionated, quick to flop on the floor and wail, but also quick to giggle and squeal with delight.
Claire has really started walking. She uses a little push wagon as a walker, but when she’s all strapped into her braces, shoes, and de-rotation straps, she can book it. And she’s SO PROUD. She knows she has worked very hard in therapy to get to this point, and she is thrilled that she can finally do it. Watching her go just fills me with joy. When she was born with a more severe spinal defect than we had hoped, a myelomeningocele from L2 or 3 down into her sacrum, we were worried about what her mobility would be like. And here she goes, chugging away, totally besting our expectations. Now she’s decided she can do whatever her sister can do, and has taken to trying to climb the furniture. I’ve had to let her take a couple tumbles, because she refuses to believe me that gravity exists, and will literally take my hands off her body if I try to guide her. I guess gravity itself will be the best teacher when it comes to crawling off the edge of the couch.
This morning, we walked into the girls’ room to get them up, and they were BOTH standing up, holding onto the crib rails. The first time Claire has done that, and she wasn’t even wearing her braces. She was just grinning. Love that girl.
Etta’s bursting with new skills and interests too. The one that does my English major heart the proudest is her discovery of books. Everyone says to read to your babies, and we have, but up until recently, they haven’t seemed to really enjoy it or be interested in it. Not so now. Etta will go to the shelf, pick out a book (her current faves are “How to be a Grouch by Oscar the Grouch,” an Ikea book called “Heroes of the Vegetable Patch,” and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear”), bring it over to wherever I am, hand it to me, crawl into my lap, and wait for me to start reading. She turns the pages most of the time, too. I read those three books hundreds of times a day, it feels like, but I don’t mind a bit.
Another fun Etta trait is asking “What’s dat?” and pointing her little finger. She’s interested in everything, and wants to know what words they’re called. It’s become a bit of a game we play in their room, which has lots of animal pictures on the wall, and she points to different ones almost like she’s giving me a pop quiz. She really enjoys hearing me say the word “jellyfish.” She loves to whisper the word “shoes,” and both girls are obsessed with the word “cat,” or, as Etta says it, “TAT!”
Mealtime is also fun because they’ve started to figure out how to use a fork and spoon. They often eat what we eat, and I really enjoy all of us sitting down to dinner together. Claire has worked very hard in feeding therapy and is able to eat more and more foods and even occasionally drink from a sippy cup.
Overall, while there have certainly been some terrible toddler moments, I’m really soaking up the awesome ones.
On this day in history, Jon and I went to my first prenatal appointment. 8 weeks pregnant, and so excited to hear our baby’s heartbeat and get the official confirmation that we were indeed having a baby.
Because the doctor was a friend, she gave us a quick ultrasound so we could peek at the baby. She jiggled the wand a bit and showed us a little blob inside a bigger blob on the screen. “There’s your baby,” she said. We heard the thump thump thump of the heartbeat. We watched the blob for a bit, tears in our eyes, and then she jiggled the wand again and said the words that I will never forget:
“And now we’re going to take a look over here at baby number two.”
I said: “SAY WHAT?”
And sure enough, there was another little blob inside a bigger blob, thump thump thumping away.
My sweet husband, who had suspected he saw another blob before the doctor showed me, well, his first words on the subject were, “You’re going to get soooooo big,” squeezing my hand.
I just kept saying “WHAT?!”
Twins had not even been on my radar. It never even occurred to me to think or fear the possibility. On the way out of the doc’s office, we started calling friends and family, and to a person, they all thought we were joking. I kinda felt like the universe was joking.
To anyone newly pregnant with twins out there, let me tell you, the shock is normal. I think we just kept saying “Holy shit,” to each other for a couple of months. And let me also say, it’s normal, I’ve learned, to have many complicated feelings about the whole twins thing. I really think I had to mourn the loss of a normal pregnancy, of the images I had in my mind of one newborn and a lot of snuggling and gazing into each other’s eyes. I only ever typed or thought of the word as “TWINS?!” for months. And some days I still can’t believe that I have two babies.
Mostly, though, I can’t imagine not having twins. There has never been one without the other, from the minute I saw them on that ultrasound screen. There is no Claire without Etta and no Etta without Claire. While I can honestly say that there is much of the exhausting early days I barely remember because of the mind-numbing sleepless HARD of it all, this twin gig keeps getting better. They ask for each other. They wake up talking to each other in the mornings. They tickle each other and hug each other and kiss each other, and yes, bop each other on the heads and steal each other’s toys and pull each other’s hair.
It’s been a crazy ride from blobs to baby buddies, but it’s also been a beautiful one. I wouldn’t have it any other way.